We live in a multi-device online universe.

Individuals regularly interface with your website via any number of devices including smart phones, tablets, laptops, netbooks and of course desktop computers. During the day while on the road or wherever we may be, many of us do our product or service research on a smart phone or tablet or netbook then later on, once we get home, make a purchase or submit a request for more information using our desktop.

This multi-device “hopping” (or funnel) was the reason Google moved their AdWords platform from “legacy” to “enhanced” because they recognized a shift had happened and the need to improve their platform to provide the best possible user experience was necessary.

I believe I mentioned this in a posting a ways back – or maybe I’m only thinking I did (regardless I’m too lazy today to go back and try and find it) but I do believe that eventually Google will begin to penalize and/or reward websites that either do or do not offer a responsive or adaptive user web site experience.

Say…what?

In the multi-device “interverse” you have several options when it comes to providing your users with the best possible web site experience. You can use Responsive web design, Adaptive web design, build a standalone mobile site or do nothing and stick with your existing “optimized for desktop” website.

Responsive Web Site

To put it as simply as possible, the responsive website is responsive to what device it is being viewed on. So in other words a responsive web site (aka Responsive Web Design or RWD) “knows” what device is being used to view it and adjusts its content accordingly. The Responsive web site is said to “flow” to provide the optimal device-specific experience. Here content can literally move about to provide the optimal device specific viewing experience.

Adapative web site

The adaptive web site (aka Adaptive Wed Design or AWD) detects what type of device it is being viewed upon and presents the viewer with a predefined screen size. In other words the adaptive web site does not flow, but has a selection of static options and provides the one that offers the best possible user experience.

Clear as mud?

I’m no techie so I hope the following explanation clears things up rather than obscures them more but the responsive design type can pretty much provide the best possible experience for just about any type of device. So if you lined up a half dozen different devices with a half dozen different screen sizes, each would receive the best possible site experience from the responsive website. The responsive site is fluid.

The adaptive web does not actually adapt to any screen size so the name is a bit misleading. The adaptive site may have a single mobile setting and presents that view to any mobile device while presenting a desktop setting to all other users. There may be some variations in there but they are “device general” rather than “device specific”. So while the mobile setting may look great on some mobile devices, it may look not so great on others. The adaptive site is non-fluid.

Mobile Site

Building a standalone mobile site is a less expensive alternative to the two above site design options. Here you have your standalone desktop designed website while over here you have your mobile designed website. If you visit the desktop site on a mobile device, the website recognizes that you are using a mobile device and redirects you to the mobile website. As a business you want to present your best face to a potential customer – this allows you to do that for far less money that responsive or adaptive design methods. Also, right now, mobile sites receive higher mobile search market rankings. Still this means you are managing two different websites.

Or Do Nothing.

Your last option is to do nothing and force all users to visit the same site regardless of device. Problem here is, many many websites that may look great on a desktop (and they should look great as they were designed that way) look like…crap is the polite term…on mobile, smart phones and tablets. Some sites don’t even work on these devices. If your site uses Flash and someone visits your site via a Kindle – all they see is a big grey box with a puzzle piece inside it. Not the best user experience. That has got to affect whether or not someone purchases or even bothers to request more information. This one size fits all solution is no longer tenable in the multi-device interverse.

So what’s the point of this blog? What’s the take away? With smartphones and tablet sales continuing to increase, with desktop sales continuing to slump, your web site has got to offer the best possible user experience.

Who else cares about the best possible user experience?

Google and Bing do.

I cannot speak so much to Bing but with Google, user experience is one of the prime factors in determining quality score. So even if your website looks amazing on a desktop, if it looks terrible on a smart phone or tablet, you run the risk of hurting your site usage metrics which in turn can affect your overall quality scores which in turn drive down your ad position while driving up your click costs.

Right now, to the best of my knowledge, Google does not factor in how your site “works” with a mobile, smart phone or tablet. But I bet that is only a matter of time. So as good as your user experience may be on a desktop, if your mobile and tablet user experiences are terrible, that is going to hurt you.

The multi-device online universe is here…its only a matter of time before your web site will need to adapt and respond to that reality.